Stroke is a disease caused by the abrupt stoppage of blood flow to the brain. When the blood vessel providing oxygen and nutrients is disrupted, your brain is cut-off from the supply of those critical components, causing your brain cells to quickly die. When a stroke causes restricted blood flow to a particular region of the brain, that region’s performance is altered.
Types of Strokes:
These disruptions can be caused by one of two things: a blockage or a ruptured blood vessel. The disturbance of blood flow by a blockage, also referred to as a clot, results in an ischemic stroke. The latter scenario, lack of blood flow due to ruptured a blood vessel, is the cause of a hemorrhagic stroke. You may have also heard of a “mini stroke” or a TIA (transient ischemic attack), which is caused by a temporary clot.
Your brain is divided into two hemispheres, left and right. Each hemisphere manages its own responsibilities, hence the common myth of being a “left-brained” or “right-brained” thinker based off of personal strengths. Right-brained thinkers tend to be analytical and mathematical while left-brained thinkers are creative and artistic. The two hemispheres explains why a stroke and its effects will look different depending on which side of the brain it occurs. This is due to the contralateral relationship between the brain and the body. This means that when the left side of the body, for example, has been affected by a stroke, the injury to the brain likely occurred in the right hemisphere, and vice versa.
You can read more about the symptoms and effects of a stroke on the left or right side of the brain here.
While the exact cause of some strokes is ultimately unknown, there is heavy research on a number of factors that have been directly linked to the disease. While not all of the factors are within your control, knowing the high risk factors is an important part of prevention, especially if you are in an at-risk group or have already experienced a previous stroke.
Lifestyle risk factors include obesity, physical inactivity, heavy alcohol use, illicit drug use, and exposure to cigarette smoke - first and secondhand.
Medically-treatable factors include cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure. High blood pressure is the most prevalent cause and more than doubles your risk of having a stroke. Understanding why maintaining your blood pressure is so important is vital to prevention of first and recurrent strokes. To learn more check out Why is Maintaining Healthy Blood Pressure Important?
Uncontrollable factors include age, family history, race, gender, and having a previous stroke. If you have already experienced one stroke, you are at an even higher risk for having another. Within five years, the likelihood of a secondary stroke can grow up to 40%. Recurrent strokes are also more likely to be fatal and cause long term disability. You can read more about recurrent stroke prevention here.
If you appear to have had a stroke, your medical professional will likely perform tests as confirmation. They may continue to order these specific tests that provide more insight into the nature of your particular case to monitor your condition. Learn more about medical tests for diagnosing strokes here.
You can also read more in depth about the causes of strokes here. What Causes a Stroke: 7 Major Stroke Risk Factors